Trans NZ Enduro, Race report day one
Words by Gary Campbell
“We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain…..and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come up straight from underneath.”
New Zealand is a fickle country at times. The South Island has been in drought conditions for the past three months, right up until Thursday when a few riders and all the volunteers arrived. Blue skies, nice and warm, perfect summer conditions really.
That all changed on Friday morning. With the majority of riders having rolled into camp, the heavens open and we were battered with torrential rain that lasted all day.
We woke this morning to not too bad conditions and tucked into a hearty breakfast while hoping that the predicted weather front wouldn’t appear. Unfortunately as the riders were loading into the shuttle vans to head to the start of stage one the weather decided that today was going to be interesting……..
We got dropped at the bottom of Broken River ski field road and set off on a 20ish minute ride/push up to the start of stage one by riding up Anti-luge. This climb showed us what to expect: 4 inch deep muddy slurry mixed with native beech leaves. Being both Northern Irish and residing in the damp North of New Zealand I wasn’t too fussed and kind of perversely looking forward to it!
We started stage one in the shadow of helicopter hill on a steep alpine ridgeline littered with rocks and roots, sending us past competitors still climbing up, offering sage words of wisdom. This short sharp descent spat us into the stage proper; flowy native beech forest singletrack, covered in a web of roots, with multiple high lines to pick and choose from, except today there was a river flowing through it, but once you got into it you realised that there was a tonne of grip, and as long as you could blink the mud out of your eyes things were all good!
Crossing the finish of stage one I stopped, washed my face in the river then buddied up with a bunch of other racers all grinning from ear to ear spouting the typical MTB cries of “man that was sooooo sick” “F*&K that was rad” etc and started the quick climb to stage 2.
At the start of stage two some emergency repairs were carried out. One helpful soul gifted his spare gear cable inner to a guy with no working gears, and I dumped all the air out of my shock and refilled it in an effort to stop it doing funny things it had been doing on the climb.
Dropped into stage 2, a lot mellower than one both in steepness and roots etc on the trail, but the rain had turned every single corner into an opportunity for big predictable 2 wheel drifts. This stage was finished just as you were getting warmed up, finished by another river and another opportunity to wash what seems like half the Craigieburn valley's soil off your face.
Somewhere along the 30min climb to stage 3 my shock decided that it didn’t really want all its oil anymore and spat it out from somewhere around the rebound knob, cue my bike fully sagging out and turning a relatively easy transition into a nice nature walk. I arrived at the top of stage 3 to be told that I had to go down it to get out……
Beeped into stage 3 and ran off down the course as fast as possible (hey if you can’t ride you may as well heckle, right?!) From what I saw it looked like it would have been a fun ride through some open alpine tussock. My buddies later told me that the rain had made it a difficult slow pedal.
At the end of stage three we regrouped ourselves ad got stuck into the provided food and drink. At this point my girlfriend who had been marshalling down on stage 2 arrived with the sweeper and kindly offered me her bike (Cheers Debs, you sure are a keeper!) After a bit of deliberation I decided battling an unfamiliar bike a size too small would be a better option than a DNF. We loaded our bikes onto the shuttle again and boosted down Cheeseman skifield access road and headed back to where we started the day. I had a quick pedal swap here and rejigged the air pressures to suit and rolled into our last climb of the day.
I had been dreading this moment for the past few days; an hour long climb up the Craigieburn skifield access road, a climb I associated with pain from my days of living on the South Island a few years ago. However it turns out my fitness has improved dramatically since I started riding smaller travelled bikes instead of DH rigs and the added bonus that bikes have lightened heaps in recent years, this combined meant the climb was actually a pretty cruisy spin of the legs.
We collected ourselves in the shadow of the tow ropes of the skifield looking down the Craigieburn valley as the clouds parted and the rain finally disappeared. Once we were all gathered up we rolled into what is widely regarded as the best trail in Craigieburn, The Edge. It was decided that due to steep, exposed nature of this trail we wouldn’t race the first half, so we were free to meander along at a mellow pace.
Unfortunately due to my bike issues I was in the last 10 riders at this point. This meant that every root and rock was covered in a nice thick layer of mud, and this combined with my girlfriend’s unfamiliar bike put me firmly in survival mode. Still, I was riding a bike and had an ear to ear grin nonetheless and thoroughly enjoying the narrow off camber native beech forest goodness laid out in front of me.
Popped out of stage 4 and rolled a few hundred metres down the road to the start of stage 5 (this was a last minute add-on as an alternative to stages 5 & 6, which had been pulled due to weather at the request of the local trail builders who had just finished the trails a few weeks previously) this stage took us straight back to base camp.
This was a short sharp digger built trail that traversed along the side of the hill before dropping into a series of switchback berms that had by this stage turned into a wet slippery skid-a-thon. Speeds where high and the grins as ever throughout the day were ear to ear.
Once finished here it was a quick pedal down the road to base camp, and the start of operation tidy up; hose the bike down, hose myself down, rig up a drying rack from a foldup bed in front of the fire and start to get ready for the next day.
Anyway must go, need to try and find a spare shock somewhere...